College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series returns with live, in-person event | VTx


Virginia Tech College of Science’s J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series is hosting its first in-person live lecture since Fall 2019 on Thursday, September 29.

The presentation will be delivered by Ron Vale, Vice President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Executive Director of the Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia. Vale will be speaking on World’s Smallest Machines, an insight into the fact that the cells found in every living thing have incredibly intricate moving parts that function much like robots. Vale is also Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology.

The talk will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in the Holtzman Alumni Center Auditorium on the Blacksburg campus and via a Zoom webinar. Registration is required. It’s free and open to the public.

Vale described his lecture as follows: “Look around for living organisms. What do you see? they move. Birds fly, lions pounce and soccer players whiz across the field. Motion is a fundamental property of biological organisms. Now look under a microscope. Pond water is full of single-celled organisms that swim and swirl in all directions. Let’s crank the magnification up further and look inside a cell. Tiny bundles of building blocks called organelles move everywhere, functioning like trucks delivering goods around a city. Even the yeast that makes beer has to shift its DNA when it divides.”

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He added: “I’m going to discuss the molecular motors [that] drive biological movement. These motors power muscle contraction, the beating of the cilia in your lungs and sperm flagella, and the movement of materials within cells. I’m going to tell you about my discovery of one of these machines called kinesin, describe how these machines work, and discuss why they are important to medicine and biotechnology.”

Daniela Cimini, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, part of the College of Science, invited Vale to visit as a Sowers lecturer. “A lot of what we know about molecular motors and how they work is thanks to Ron’s work,” said Cimini. “One of Ron’s strengths as a scientist was his ability to apply a wide range of approaches, from biochemistry to cell biology to physics.

Vale received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University in 1985, was a Staff Fellow at the US National Institutes of Health and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hall, Massachusetts, from 1985 to 1986. In 1987 he began teaching at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco.

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He has worked with many people and organizations to make science more accessible to both the broader scientific community and the general public, Cimini said.

Vale founded iBiology, a nonprofit organization that produces videos of scientific lectures by leading scientists and makes them freely available to the public. Vale also founded XBio (The Explorer’s Guide to Biology), a new type of learning resource for undergraduate biology. He also founded ASAPbio, a non-profit organization to improve scientific publishing in the life sciences.

He also co-founded biotech companies Cytokinetics, Faze, and Myeloid Therapeutics.

Other ventures he has launched are IndiaBioscience, a life sciences networking organization in India, and the annual Young Investigator Meeting for young Indian scientists. Previously, he was Co-Principal of the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Physiology Course for five years and founded/directed the Bangalore Microscopy Course.

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His awards and honors include the Canada Gairdner International Award, the Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research, the Shaw Prize in Life Sciences, the Massry Prize, the Wiley Prize, and the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization and the Indian National Science Academy.

The J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series at Virginia Tech’s College of Science is a forum for the exchange of new and innovative ideas in scientific fields. Since the series began in February 2017, a total of 15 lectures have taken place, both in person and virtually.

Generously supported by Mark and Debi Sowers, this series offers the university community and the general public the opportunity to interact and learn from eminent academics and industry experts.

Sowers is a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and developer and longtime supporter of the College of Science. He sponsors the series to share his fascination with science, especially natural sciences.





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